How a Chip Architect Architected His Dream Ride

by Harel Kopelman

The scene: Eight years ago. Plush interior of a lightning-fast BMW. A frustrated John Danskin at the wheel.

What exasperated John wasn’t that his car wouldn’t budge, that he’d been cut off in traffic or that he neglected to bring his favorite mix disc for a long trip. He was frustrated because he couldn’t drive his new beast at its maximum speed.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘this is a fast car, but I can’t actually go fast with it,’” says John, a 13-year veteran of NVIDIA.

Flash forward to today. John, a vice president of GPU Architecture and key thinker behind chip design here, is sitting behind the wheel of a 1964 Daytona Coupe – one that he built himself.

The Rhode Island native has taken his love of building things outside the realm of computer chips. He’s built fly rods, boats and now the Daytona, which he pieced together with the help of a car kit from Factory Five Racing.

A team player at heart, John says he loves working on projects that take impossible amounts of time to do alone but can be accomplished with the help of coworkers.

But he saw a solo mission to meet his vehicular needs. “You can’t really be intimate with something until you’ve taken it apart and put it back together again with your own two hands,” he says. “To be really intimate, figure out why the first three ways you put it together were wrong. Once you’ve done that, you can truly call that thing yours.”

John Danskin Daytona Coupe

Doing One Thing – Really Well

The Daytona Coupe, a highly specialized car built purely for speed, proved to be perfect for John. Whereas the standard vehicle has an interior crafted for comfort, windows designed to maximize vision, and humming and vibrations minimized, the Daytona screeches, blinds and bumps its passenger unceasingly. But John doesn’t mind – he cares solely for the Daytona’s power.

“When you’re racing, it’s okay if you can’t see anything within 100 feet of you, because if it’s closer than 100 feet it’s already past you anyways,” he says. “And besides, cars that do everything perfectly are boring. I wanted to build a car that did just one thing really well.”

John Danskin Daytona Coupe
John with the partially built Daytona.

When John started building the car, he employed a technique he uses in his work: removing anything from a computer chip that isn’t absolutely necessary to make it do what it’s supposed to do better. For the Daytona, that meant clearing any obstacles to making the car go faster — including some extreme measures, like tearing out the dashboard and leaving the wiring exposed.

Before building the Daytona, John had joined a local BMW club to learn how to drive on a racetrack, looking to satisfy the need for speed that couldn’t be sated elsewhere. This worked for a few years, but eventually he reached the point where he wanted to actually race – not just drive – at the track.

Which is why once a month in the summer, John now races with other amateurs. He’ll travel anywhere within 500 miles of Rhode Island to race, often matching up with the same group of people at events.

The track is ideal for testing a car, John says, “because if something goes wrong, you’ll end up spinning across the grass, not smashing into a wall.”

So far, he’s spun off the track twice with the Daytona, escaping unscathed and with no damage to the car. Although if he does damage it, that’s okay: He’s got the know-how, and the passion, to put it back together again.